I discovered just how brilliant Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain was in one of the more unexpected moments. I’d not played any games in the EDF series before, with the plentiful releases somehow passing me by, and so I came into it with a few preconceived expectations. If you’re like me and are concerned that picking up a game this far into a series might leave you grasping to try and understand some nuanced plot details, then don’t be – EDF: Iron Rain is as big, dumb and fun as video games can possibly be.
But back to that unexpected moment I realised its brilliance. It was while customising the look of my female character in the detailed character creation screen that I discovered one particular outfit that didn’t leave much to the imagination. The titillation was rampant, with a cleavage popping top and a raunchily revealing thong and stockings combo. Typical Japanese video game, I thought, but then my partner, who was creating a male character, tried to see if her avatar could wear the same outfit – he could. Chiselled pecs peeked over low cut top and taught glutes protruded from skimpy panties. Yes, EDF: Iron Rain is brilliant.
It’s still dumb, though. There’s hints in the plot, delivered predominantly by in-game voice overs and a few cut scenes, that the EDF might actually be a sinister corporation-styled dictatorship. There’s plenty of clues to suggest as much, but all semblance of narrative is put to one side just to have a big smackdown with some massive aliens in this third-person shoot ’em up action-fest. That’s absolutely fine with me.
The fifty-two missions in this game take place within small open levels. Each task the player must complete varying from “kill everything” to “kill everything some more”. Were the levels longer and less bite-sized this might lead to repetition, instead they are the perfect length for a pick up and play multiplayer experience. Going online is a nice and stable affair and, whilst the community is small, I didn’t have much difficulty finding up to five buddies to team up with. In a generous touch you can pick any mission in the game in co-op, which is ideal for gathering the money and energy gems you’ll need to upgrade your character’s mech suit and buy big guns.
There’s more weaponry in this game than you can wave a Genocide Gun at, and the majority of the hardware is deliriously inventive. There’s an assault rifle that shoots random magic instant-kill bullets, another that orders an orbital satellite to target your Earth-bound enemies and a laser cannon that fires what can only be described as ‘The Sun’ to devastating nuclear effect. It’s terrific fun and while the big, dumb enemies of giant bugs and robots don’t offer much of a tactical challenge, they do have the necessary sponge-like quality of being able to soak up your bullets in a satisfying manner before exploding.
That’s not to say the EDF: Iron Rain is an easy game, far from it. On the harder difficulty levels the hundreds of foes rampaging around the screen barely give you time to think. It’s all too easy to find yourself cut off and being digested in an ant’s gullet before you know what’s happing. As such, the correct use of your PA Gear is vital.
There’s four different types of mech-suit you can use through the game. Three of them are all fairly generic – a standard soldier, a nimble jet pack trooper and a heavily armoured but slow warrior – but the star of the show is undoubtable the Prowl Rider. Not only does it let you careen around the battlefield like an amateur Spider-Man, you can even use the suit to summon a giant insect for you to ride. Hacking away at the metallic hull of a screen-filling robot with the pincers of my gargantuan super scorpion was a definite highlight of the game!
A rechargeable booster enables the use of each suit’s special abilities, and there’s also a single use super ability. The correct use of both these aspects is vital to make any progress on the tougher difficulty levels, so it’s a real shame that the tutorials explain so little of the game. So much of the game is left for the player to uncover for themselves, right down to the basics of running. I learnt a lot from playing with others online, as they combine PA-Gear, weapons and items to achieve results you’d never even dreamed of.
Thanks to the compact mission structure, you can easily drop in and out of playing the game single player, multiplayer or local split-screen. It was the latter mode that truly exceeded my expectations. I played through the entire game in two player and despite the vast swathes of insects on the screen, the frame rate was solid and slow-down was minimal. All this from a standard PS4, which is hugely impressive and contrary to the slightly shonky reputation that the rest of the the EDF series has.
There’s some issues, of course. Getting trapped inside or on insect carcasses and being unable to move until they disappear is a real pain, the end boss fights go on so long that my fingers needed a break from button bashing, and the repeated use of the same dramatic music in the menus prompted me to eventually turn the sound off. I can still hear the BUM-BUM-BUM-BUUUM-BUUUUUUM in my dreams.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy this game will depend on the quality of player you experience it with. This is a multiplayer title through and through, so find yourself a good compadre or two to team up with. I’ll challenge you to find a more stupidly entertaining – and entertainingly stupid – video game this year.